It's the hottest day of the summer in an all-black neighborhood somewhere in Brooklyn. Residents search for beer in a blazing wasteland of heat, while others simply unscrew the fire hydrant and let the cold goodness flow out into the streets like uncontrollable rapids. In the middle of it all, the neighborhood shops have opened come morning; and both their employees and their respective owners have returned yet again for another hard day on the job, this one being a particularly difficult one to endure. And it's not just because of the heat. There is a small convenience store run by an Asian family, and then there is an Italian pizzeria, run by, as one would expect, an Italian family. The founder is a cruel, sadistic, and burly man named Sal (Danny Aiello). He operates the parlor with his two sons - Vito (Richard Edson) and Pino (John Turturro) - and a young African American man named Mookie, who is the delivery boy. Sal is ruthless, and there are pizzas to be delivered: but from the get-go, "Do the Right Thing" seems to be asking the question of whether the severe weather conditions can or will truly get to the city folk of the condensed hood that they inhabit.
Mookie's a good kid. He stays out of trouble, has a genuinely healthy circle of friends, and makes time for his girlfriend (Rosie Perez) and his sister (Joile Lee) when he can; sometimes when he's on the job. This proves to be a trade-off, as for all the time he spends delivering a single pizza to a friend or family member's house (or not), he must return to the pizzeria only to receive a verbal beating from his boss. Indeed, the neighborhood is presented with a "it's a small world after all" type vibe, and there are many characters, but most of the more important events happen right at the pizzeria. Being a mostly black/Latino neighborhood, this side of Brooklyn does house many Italians; and this angers Sal and his sons alike. He seems to hate a lot of his customers (particularly a guy who walks around with a loud beat box, and another who demands better-quality pizza as well as more black men featured on the pictorial "wall of fame" that is located in the joint), and it comes to no surprise that they hate him just as much. But alas, there are some kindly souls located in this neighborhood; like the mayor (Ossie Davis), who walks about town searching a cold one and attempting to romance an old woman named Mother Sister (Rubie Dee).
Spike Lee produced, wrote, directed, and starred (as Mookie). He wanted to make a film that dove deep into the racist underworld of modern America, the kind that most Hollywood filmmakers were certainly afraid to explore at the time that the film was released. But of course, Lee has a voice and he uses it fearlessly; bringing up some truly provocative points and succeeding in gritty message-making by the time the characters (and the weather conditions) reach their boiling point. You may already know that the film ends with a tragic riot, in which an angry customer, the beat box guy, and some loyal black followers try to boycott the pizzeria; which ends in an eruption of racist violence and social misunderstanding. The film seems to be intended as a document of the many things that Lee saw in his life leading up to his directorial debut; in regards to the racism of our time. He's made a film that certainly proves that a more post-modern Ku Klux Klan need not wear the attire; for it's the man that makes the racist bastard, not his clothes.
In spite of its deeply provocative themes; "Do the Right Thing" is not truly depressing until the last thirty minutes or so. Until then, it does well to immerse us in the culture of the hood through music (Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" is playing in my head as we speak) and an honest visual representation of life in a black Brooklyn neighborhood. These aren't some of the nicest people out there for sure, yet Lee is able to make us care for a good number of them; especially a lonely but lively radio talk show host named Mister Senor Love Daddy, played by a young and very much enthusiastic Samuel L. Jackson. Now, in any other film, this character might have served as a simple diversion; but here, he seems to be the only one who understands the current situation and how to maturely cope with it. Yes, it's hot out, and yes, there is racial tension going on outside his studio, but he doesn't let it get to him. He knows how to deal with tragedy and keep on trucking.
The film concludes with two quotations. One is by Martin Luther King, dealing with whether violence can ever be truly justified; and another by Malcolm X, which asks if there is a difference between violence and self-defense. Spike Lee and "Do the Right Thing" both seem to live by such philosophies, and that's what makes the film such a thought-provoking and important work. Yes, racism has been dealt with before in cinema; but it's a movie like this that makes me believe that past discrimination can perhaps be made up for with art. There is a beautifully written scene where several characters very colorfully scream prejudice remarks at the camera, perhaps hoping to evoke a response of some sort. Or maybe it's just meant to display anger, I don't know. But what I do know is that Spike Lee is a filmmaker to watch, and "Do the Right Thing" is a great movie about the topic of racist prejudice. That's the truth, Ruth.
"Racism is when you have laws set up, systematically put in the way to keep people from advancing, to stop the advancement of a people. Black people have never had the power to enforce racism, and so this is something that white America is going to have to work out themselves. If they decide they want to stop it, curtail it, or to do the right thing… then it will be done, but not until then." -Spike Lee, in an interview taken from Roger Ebert's Home Movie Companion of 1990 … more
Pros: Well, it entertains Cons: I can't help feeling Spike Lee got a free pass despite rabid stereotyping. The Bottom Line: Yes, I am an anti-PC libertarian, to answer your question. So I recently saw Spike Lee's most revered movie, Do the Right Thing, for the first time. I have formed an opinion on it. The opinion I have formed is not a politically correct one. Are you still interested in it? Are … more
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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